Monday, September 25, 2006

Cat People and Dog People

Are you a cat person, or a dog person? Why is it cat people can be dog people, but dog people rarely want anything to do with cats?

Cats are independent. Dog people call cats ‘sneaky.’ They don’t like the idea cats can figure out how to get up on the kitchen counter while you’re not looking and make off with the entire fish you were preparing for dinner. They also don’t like the fact cats are nocturnal and can actually see pretty well in the dark. Fear of the unknown leads dog people to mistrust cats. “Will that damn cat decide my bare feet are prey on my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night?” or “Why do cats have to terrorize their victims to death?”

Dog people are offended at the thought of a creature enjoying the torment of another. But cats don’t consider this one way or the other. To them, it’s just another wind-up toy to chase. If there’s a God, then God made them that way. Perhaps mice are really people who’ve terrorized others in a previous life and must now reap their just rewards. The next cute, furry mouse you see may, in fact, be the reincarnation of Hitler.

Dogs. Well, what can I say about dogs? They’re blissfully ignorant side-kicks who don’t really care about anything except their reproductive organs, where and how often they can urinate, food, a chewed, slimy rubber ball, and their unfounded adoration of two-legged creatures they don’t even understand. Most people say dogs aren’t sneaky. This may be because they make enough noise to alert an entire neighbourhood if they get up on the kitchen counter to steal the fish. What’s worse, if they do manage to grab the fish, they’ll end up having to be rushed to emergency before they choke to death on the bones. They’re not nocturnal, so if they try to chase your feet in the night, they’re libel to run into the wall instead. And they don’t terrorize their prey, they simply rip them to shreds or leave them maimed and wishing they were dead.

As you’ve probably guessed, I’m a cat person. That said, I do have (and love) dogs – but I don’t expect them to be as smart as cats. Cat’s can look after themselves. If they aren’t fed on time, they can find some small creature to eat. If they’re dirty, they give themselves a bath. A dog would starve to death or die of filth without us.

But whether you’re a dog or cat person, we all still have one thing in common: Having a furry friend to love when we get home makes life a lot more pleasant.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Mothers down through the years have been lauded, applauded, pedestalled, crowned, sung of, painted, poemed and enshrined all in an attempt to show we recognize the enormity of their influence and responsibility. There is no pre-requisite for motherhood. One does not have to pass exams, or be of a certain ethnic background, religion, financial status or temperament. The only requirements for motherhood are those dictated by mother nature herself and even these are no longer hard and fast. Basically, the traditional requisites for becoming a mother are:
A. Be of the female sex.
B. Be reproductively mature.
C. Have had at least one sexual encounter with a male of the same species.
All of which can go without saying if one has:
D. Given birth.

Nowadays, however, many of these requirements have been adapted to our own needs. No longer is physical femaleness as important as MENTAL femaleness. There are thousands of mothers out there stuck in a male body! And as far as physically giving birth, well, many people find the whole process either too disgusting, too inconvenient or just plain impossible. These people can still attain motherhood through adoption, surrogacy or kidnapping. In the end, it all comes back to the fact that motherhood is a state of mind.

This is the universal link between all mothers, regardless of their individual personalities or conditions of life. Mothers all have one goal in life: Control.

In the beginning a mother must control her child simply for the child's well-being. The innocent little dears would certainly never survive without a mother's controlling influence. One would think, however, that once that child reaches adulthood the instinct to control would diminish. It doesn’t. Instead it merely assumes a new name: Manipulation.

Take the case of the 15 year old daughter going out with her friends wearing something her mother considers inappropriate. Mother can control this behaviour by saying: "You will not leave this house wearing THAT, my girl. Go up and change immediately!"

Then look at the same daughter 25 years later going out for her 20th wedding anniversary, once again wearing something mother doesn't approve of. Mother smiles sweetly and says: "Oh my, I thought those fashions went out of style years ago! DO have a good time, dear. Are you going somewhere dark?"

Mothers don’t acknowledge adulthood in their children. When Mom comes to visit her 40-something year old son, she will still covertly check his fingernails, hair, ears and underwear – if she can get her hands on them. Anything amiss will automatically be blamed on his wife, who obviously wasn't raised well enough to know how things should be done.

When Mom comes to visit her 40-something year old daughter, she mutters things like, "I see you've forgotten everything I taught you." or "In my day, we took pride in our work!" as she interferes in every facet of the household duties. Daughters and daughters-in-law apparently become threats to a mother's sense of autocracy. How dare they be able to cope with things differently? Sons, on the other hand, will always be pitied, clucked over, coddled and lovingly chastised for trying to manage independently. They can never pose a threat, for they were kept blissfully ignorant of anything remotely resembling domestic duties. We don't want to make sissies of them by having them do women's work!

Mothers learn to adapt their control messages to suit the age of their child. What once were out and out commands become subtle hints, martyrdom and/or reverse psychology as their child matures. Some key manipulative phrases are:
"When I was your age..."
"I'm just too old to argue with you."
"Your poor, dear father would roll over in his grave..."
"This is all the thanks I get after all the things I've done for you."
"I don't want to interfere dear, but..."

Mothers use their seniority like an atomic bomb – bringing it out as a last resort. There is nothing you can do to win your point once Mother starts dropping lines like:
"I've been around a lot longer than you."
"When you get to be my age..."
"You can't put an old head on young shoulders..."
"You young kids these days...!"
This seniority excuses any amount of tactless behaviour. Mother is the only person in the world who can say to you:
"When are you going to lose all that weight?" or
"That hair colour looks hideous with your complexion." or
"Ever since you married that horrible person, you've just let yourself go."

Mothers develop selective memories once they acquire grandchildren. You will be told things like:
"I was in labour for ten days with you and was out picking cotton on the eleventh!" or:
"When are you going to toilet train that child? All of you were out of diapers by the time you were five months old!" or:
"The trouble with your generation is you don't discipline your children. No wonder there's so much crime these days!"
Of course if you take exception to any of these statements Mother will simply say: "Don't argue with me. I've been on this earth a lot longer than you." So don't bother.

I suppose, if the truth be told, motherhood is a position that demands respect, and it’s not fair, and can be somewhat dangerous, to criticize too much. Luckily, after pondering all the annoying indiosyncracies that accompany motherhood, I feel I have a more open mind. I can look my own children straight in the eye and say:
"Despite the fact that I am your mother, I will hereafter try to approach every situation in a fair, unbiassed and calm manner, and if your rooms are not immaculate in one hour, I will set fire to them."

Monday, September 11, 2006

Australia in Oz

The weather here is still pretty cold, even though it’s now officially Spring. I’ve lived in Australia for 24 years, and have become somewhat used to the odd switch in seasons. But Christmas is still not right. For 30 years I lived in Michigan, and winters were fraught with snow-drifts, ice, blizzards, freezing winds, road salt and all the other hazards of a northern climate. The perfect Christmas there included mounds of pristine snow covering the ground and tree limbs outside, with frosted windows, a toasty fire and a Christmas tree glittering with lights and ornaments inside. Under the tree there’d be all variety of winter gifts – mittens, boots, coats, sleds, ice-skates. There’d be warm drinks or eggnog, and always a sprig of mistletoe.

Here in southern Australia Christmas is very different. December is scorching – and usually dry. School holidays bring thousands of city-dwellers to the coast, to enjoy the sandy beaches and splash in the clear waters of the Southern Ocean. Department stores still have fake snow decorations and Santas in heavy red suits and long, white beards. It all seems incongruous considering the climate. Christmas dinner is often served on the patio, a barbecued ham, accompanied by a variety of salads, and the inevitable plum pudding or fruitcake. Gifts consist of summer things – beach towels, swim-fins, pool toys, tanning lotion. Fruit baskets abound. Christmas trees still twinkle with lights and ornaments, but seem oddly out of place considering all the greenery and flowers abloom outdoors.

I love Australia – the people are wonderful and the land is beautiful. But I can’t deny I occasionally miss a good old Michigan Christmas. Still, this year I’ll go for a dip in the pool before dinner and we’ll sit on the back deck and enjoy the summer breezes as we have our meal al fresco. Christmas isn’t just about the weather, I suppose – it’s about good company. I hope, wherever you are, you have a holiday filled with joy, contentment and the company of family and friends.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Racism, Intolerance and Prejudice - Alive and Thriving

Last week I received one of those emails sent from one group of people to another that end up finding their way all around the globe. This one was in regard to a postage stamp the USPS is purportedly going to introduce. It had a Muslim symbol and the word “Greeting” at the bottom. The email ranted and raved in huge red letters – saying this stamp must not be allowed. It said that Muslims had killed thousands of Americans and to ‘honor’ them in any way would be to denigrate the loss of the many lives. It called on every recipient of the email to boycott the stamp, to show their hatred of Muslims.

Normally I’d just delete this sort of email, but this one made me very angry. Why should I hate all Muslims? Were ALL Muslims responsible for the terrorist attacks listed in this email? Could it be possible that there were some Muslims living their lives, raising their families and trying to survive on this planet just as me? Could it be there are Muslims, living in Western countries, who are trying to exist peacefully, yet are faced with generalized hatred of this sort daily? I questioned my ethics. I questioned my silence on this matter. Sure, it would be easy to simply delete the email and forget about it…cause no waves. But something in me made me hit the ‘reply-all’ button and voice my opinion:

“I don't believe ALL Muslims were responsible for the attacks mentioned - just as I don't believe all Americans were responsible for the war atrocities committed by certain U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, or that all Americans were responsible for the genocide of Native Americans in their own country, or that all Germans were responsible for the death camps, or that all Cambodians were responsible for the genocide there, etc. etc. Before we paint a race with one brush, we need to remember we are all citizens of the planet Earth, first and foremost. Some of these 'citizens' do evil things, some do good things, or simply trying to live their lives honorably, raise their families and be good neighbors. This sort of email is how we promote prejudicial thinking and cause even more terrorism and evil in the name of some warped sense of revenge.”

Well, the list my view of the email went to was far-flung and many – and I knew no one on it except the person who sent it to me. Opening a can of worms is an understatement. The next day my inbox was filled with emails regarding my stand on this matter. Some were in total agreement, but many accused me of a lack of patriotism, blindness, stupidity and other things not mentionable here. I was shocked and horrified. One particularly vitreous fellow – who had MD after his name – told me I was all of the above, and I should ‘remove my head from my ass.’ Another wrote to say he was glad someone said something. He said he’s worked at a Mexican mission for years, and the prejudice against Mexicans is appalling …but no one who hasn’t been there understands the conditions they live in.

I responded to the medical doctor’s rude and insulting email by saying I noticed he didn’t address any of the atrocities committed by the U.S. and Western countries. His reply? “The United States of America is one of the most moral countries on this planet.”

Well, that’s his opinion. My question is: What about the attempted genocide of Native Americans? What about the centuries of abuse and torture meted out to Black Americans? What about the rounding up of Japanese Americans during the war to be placed in camps? What about the bombings of innocent civilians in the Middle East? The list goes on and on.

I am a U.S. citizen and proud of it. I’m not, however, proud of everything the various U.S. governments throughout the years have done. I also don’t agree with a great many things that other governments or radical sects around the world do, or have done. But to blame an entire country and all its citizenry – to blame a race – is and always will be bigotry and prejudice.

Some of the emails I received asked me: “What would you do if your daughter came home and said she wanted to marry a Muslim?” Is this not reminiscent of the old question: “What would you do if your daughter wanted to marry a Negro?” or “What if your son wanted to marry an non-Catholic?”

Prejudice and intolerance is alive and thriving. It is evil – and evil breeds evil. The terrorist activities in the world are abhorrent, but let’s place blame squarely where it should be placed: On the perpetrators - NOT the race and NOT the country we believe these people are from. It’s time the silent masses of citizens in this world spoke out for peace and unity and a belief that we are all made from flesh and blood and all intrinsically the same. I’ve heard people say the horror that occurred on 9/11 helped to unify the world against terrorism. Did it? Or has it, instead, driven a greater wedge between East and West? Is this not exactly what terrorists want to do? The bigots and racists who are rife in every country are overriding the silent majority of fair-thinkers who wish only for peace on this planet. Please don’t promote racism by forwarding prejudicial emails. Speak out against them and become active in healing our planet.